Gold’s admirers are diverse, and so are the locations where it is mined. The metal is produced in more than 90 countries, but some nations earn recognition for being top producers. In 2011, over 1,800 tons of gold were mined in 10 countries. These top producing nations, which span four continents, including both emerging and developed nations, are listed below.
Mine production: 355 tons
China can be called the nation of gold. It is not only the top consumer of the the yellow metal, but also the top producer of gold, a crown it swiped from South Africa in 2007. China hardly appears at risk of being dethroned from that number one spot. Its gold production exceeded 300 tons in 2011. Through August 2012, national production was reported at 249.7 tons, a year-on-year increase of over 10 percent.
China National Gold Group claims to be the country’s largest producer, crediting itself with 20 percent of China’s gold output. According to the US Geological Survey (USGS), China has 1,900 tons of gold reserves. Shandong is the leading province for gold production and within its boundaries Zhaoyuan, which reportedly produced over 28 tons of gold in 2011, is the top gold-producing city.
China’s official gold holdings are 1,054.1 tons or 1.7 percent of total foreign reserves.
Mine production: 270 tons
Australia’s gold production rose in 2011 from the 261 tons reported in 2010. Though gold can be found across the nation, about two-thirds of its gold production comes from the state of Western Australia. That is where the world-class Super Pit at Kalgoorlie is located. Consisting of numerous mining operations, and once called the Golden Mile, this landmark site was converted into Australia’s largest open-pit mine and is owned by Newmont Mining (NYSE:NEM,TSX:NMC) and Barrick Gold (NYSE:ABX,TSX:ABX).
Australia possesses about 11 percent of the world’s economic demonstrated resources of gold, according to Geoscience Australia. The USGS reports Australia’s reserves as 7,400 tons. Gold is a leading exploration draw, ranking second in this category of expenditure. The yellow metal is also among the country’s top 10 exports, raking in about $14 billion per year.
Australia’s official gold holdings are 79.9 tons or 9.3 percent of total foreign reserves.
Mine production: 237 tons
A rise in gold production in 2011 from 231 tons in 2010 marked the second consecutive annual increase in the US. A portion of last year’s increase is attributed to the restarting of mines in the states of Montana and Nevada. The vast majority of the gold produced in this nation comes from Nevada, home of the Carlin trend. Newmont has renowned operations in the region, including 14 open-pit mines and four underground mines that operate as an integrated unit, employing various processing methods.
Mined production of gold in the US in 2011 was about $12.2 billion. The US has 3,000 tons of gold reserves.
Official US gold holdings are 8,133.5 tons or 75.4 percent of total foreign reserves. The US has the largest official holdings in the world.
Mine production: 200 tons
Russia’s gold production in 2011 rose by 8 tons from 192 tons mined in 2010. Though Russia is fourth in terms of production, the nation ranks second in explored reserves. According to the USGS, the nation has 5,000 tons of gold reserves. The nation’s most prolific gold regions are Siberia and the Far East. Polyus Gold International (LSE:POLG), which claimed the title of top producer in Russia in 2011, operates in both areas. Vitaly Nesis, CEO of Polymetal International (LSE:POLY), recently said that Russia has the best prospects for gold mining globally, but also said the industry is “shackled.” He blamed poor regulation for hampering development and production expansion.
Russia’s official gold holdings are 936.7 tons or 9.6 percent of total foreign currency. Russia is the only nation on the top producers list with official gold purchases reported by the World Gold Council this year. Through August Russia bought 57.6 tons.
Mine production: 190 tons
Centered on the list is Africa’s top producer. From 2010 to 2011 production in this nation was virtually flat, rising a single metric ton, or 0.5 percent. Though South Africa is no longer the king of the gold-producing nations, it has the most gold resources as well as the world’s largest deposits (in Witswatersrand). The USGS places reserves at 6,000 tons.
Still, the nation’s gold production has been on a downward slope for years. Through May, production declined over 10 percent compared to the same five-month period last year. Aggravating matters further in 2012, labor unrest has plagued the mining industry. Last month, about 39 percent of the nation’s gold production was halted by striking workers.
South Africa’s official gold holdings are 125 tons or 13.4 percent of foreign reserves.
Mine production: 150 tons
Peru experienced gold production declines in 2011. Gold production in 2010 was 164 tons. Still, Peru is the home of Minera Yanacocha, which has three active open pits and is the largest gold producer in Latin America. The nation’s gold reserves are 2,000 tons.
Peru’s official gold holdings are 34.7 tons or 3.2 percent of total foreign reserves.
Mine production: 110 tons
Like its southern neighbor, Canada has seen its gold production increase in the last year. In 2010, mined production only totaled 91 tons. The majority of the country’s gold comes from Ontario, which is the home of Goldcorp’s (NYSE:GG,TSX:G) Red Lake gold mine. About half of the country’s annual gold production comes from Red Lake. Gold reserves as estimated by the USGS are 920 tons, the lowest among the top 10 producers.
Canada’s official gold holdings are 3.4 tons or 0.3 percent of total foreign currency reserves.
Mine production: 100 tons
In 2011, Ghana’s gold production rose, up from 82 tons in 2010. Once known as the Gold Coast, this West African nation is the continent’s second-largest gold producer. The country’s largest mine, Tarkwa, is operated by Gold Fields (NYSE:GFI). Ghana’s gold reserves according to the USGS are 1,400 tons.
Official gold holdings are 8.7 tons or 10.2 percent of foreign reserves.
Mine production: 100 tons
Indonesia is an archipelago of 17,508 islands in Southeast Asia. Despite its diverse geography, Indonesia’s gold resources are concentrated in a handful of mineral districts. One of the most notable is Grasberg, which hosts the world’s largest gold mine. Though it ranked equally with Ghana for production in 2011, that level of output is a decrease for Indonesia, which produced 120 tons in 2010. The nation’s gold reserves as reported by the USGS are 3,000 tons.
Indonesia’s official gold holdings are 73.1 tons or 3.6 percent of total foreign reserves.
Mine production: 90 tons
The world’s tenth-largest gold producer is Uzbekistan, a landlocked nation carved out of the former Soviet Union. The gold mining industry is dominated by state-owned Navoi Mining and Metallurgical Combinat, which is responsible for 80 percent of Uzbekistan’s gold production. Navoi Mining’s key asset is Muruntau, the world’s largest open-pit mine; its reserves are expected to last until about 2032. The country’s gold reserves according to the USGS are 1,700 tons
The World Gold Council has not reported official gold holdings for Uzbekistan.
Securities Disclosure: I, Michelle Smith, own shares of Goldcorp.